Maswood Alam Khan
Two pictures, one CCTV footage showing an off-duty policeman salvaging a man fallen on rail track from being crushed under a moving train in Spain and one snap showing an on-duty policewoman beating a man naked in Bangladesh, have evoked in me a puzzle to solve: who is more munificent, a man than a woman or a woman than a man?
Last Friday, a marvelous heroic act was caught in CCTV at a Madrid train station. Security cameras recorded an off-duty policeman rescuing a man from the path of a rushing train.
At the Puerta del Angel subway station in Madrid, Spain, a passenger who was waiting on the yellow “caution” line at the platform to board an incoming train suddenly lost his balance and toppled straight onto the rail-track and lay there senseless while a train was approaching. Panicked onlookers helplessly yelled and waved for the train driver to stop, but to no avail. Just at that moment the hero policeman, off-duty at that time, stepped in to save the man’s life. Risking his own life, the brave officer jumped onto the opposite tracks and dragged the fallen man out of harm’s way—literally just a split second before the train glided onto the very spot where the passenger had fallen. Miraculously, neither man was harmed.
On the same day, the 3rd December 2010, a popular website called Sonarbangladesh.Com published a blog titled “Koopa Amena Koopa, Biandha Chooley Khoopa” (Coil your hairs tightly into a bun, then hack on, Amena, hack on) with a picture of a teenaged on-duty policewoman named Amena Begum of Chittagong Metropolitan Police (North) mercilessly beating a young man even after he had collapsed—squatted helplessly on the pavement and almost naked.
Professor Henry Higgins in the most popular 1956 movie “My Fair Lady” in his role as a phonetics teacher lamented: “Men are so decent, so chummy, and always ready to help you through any mishaps, ready to buck you up whenever you are glum. Why can’t a woman be as chummy? While Charles Darwin in his 1871 essay “The Descent of Man” stated: Woman seems to differ from man in mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness while Man delights in competition, and this leads to ambition which passes too easily into selfishness. Who was right—Henry Higgins or Charles Darwin?
Men are physically stronger than women; they take greater risks than women. Even in childhood, as play begins, boys, compared to girls, court more danger and sustain more injuries. And, women are more nurturing and empathetic than men. Even in childhood, a girl attempts to console her distressful father more caringly and lovingly than a boy does. The traits of empathy and care show up very early in a girl’s life. Female infants, for example, show greater anguish and anxiety than male infants over the plight of others and this difference persists into adulthood.
Not only do women display more empathy, they also are more likely than men to take philanthropy as one of their life goals. Women don’t merely give lip-service saying they want to help others; they enter the helping and caring professions. Like Florence Nightingale, most nurses, social workers, and teachers are females. There is, in fact, a school of thought known as “difference feminism” that valorizes women as the gentle and caring species in the worlds of both humans and animals.
But, my idea about women’s penchant for empathy were changed by 90 degrees as, about 30 years back, I had watched the 1979 movie ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’, the Academy Award winner for Best Picture in 1980, where Dustin Hoffman (as Ted) rushed to emergency ward of a hospital daringly defying speeding vehicles while crossing a very busy road, all through cuddling his bleeding son snuggled up to his chest. And my idea about men’s penchant, compared to women’s, for responding to the cry for help has changed by almost 180 degrees as I watched last Sunday in BBC Television the CCTV footage about the amazing heroism of a Spanish policeman in salvaging a man about to die and saw in the Sonarbangla.Com website the blood-curdling scene of a naked man dropped in agony on a pavement in Chittagong by the harsh beating of a Bangladeshi policewoman.
With cruelty of women towards men and generosity of men towards humans getting more and more visible, Higgins seems to be scoring points on Darwin. While females are likely to adopt fostering and caring roles toward people they only personally know, men stand out at deeds in philanthropy and acts of compassion towards strangers. If you should fall down in the street, get stranded on the highway, topple on a railway track or need to be rescued from drowning or a fire, it is likely that the person who is rushing to help you will be a man, no matter such risky acts could put the man in mortal danger. Ninety percent of those who risk or sacrifice their lives in an attempt to save another human being have always been men.
Of course, men’s greater physical strength, as well as the special risks strangers pose to women, explains why men are more likely to help someone in distress, or drag someone out of a railway track. Men’s behavior is also shaped by notions of honor, gallantry, and chivalry. While it is undeniably true that fewer men than women enter the helping professions such as teaching, nursing, social work, or caring for the disabled children, it is also true that men predominate in the saving, rescuing, and defending vocations such as policemen, firefighters, or soldiers.
The puzzle that is still lingering in my mind and continuously gnawing my conscience is why and how Amena Begum, the teenaged on-duty policewoman of Chittagong Metropolitan Police (North) could be so cruel in her behavior, mercilessly beating the young man so much groaning in pain? My gut feeling: “Amena Begum perhaps is in dire need of a promotion. She is in desperation to augment her financial position probably because she is perhaps the only member in her big family on whose earnings her ailing father, her retired husband and a number of her school-going kids may solely depend. Amena Begum is perhaps not as cruel in her family circles as she had pretended to be in her professional duty!”